Fires on the Plain / Nobi / 野火
Shinya Tsukamoto has apparently long dreamed of filming Shohei Ooka’s 1951 novel, Nobi (Fires on the Plain). Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 version is justifiably regarded as a masterpiece, bringing the chaos, tragedy and horror of the last days of the WWII in the Philippines, where Japanese soldiers were left to their own devices as command structures broke down. Their world became a living hell, a brutal struggle for survival devolving into cannibalism. Tsukamoto’s ignores the more considered approach of Ichikawa and uses his trademark style of violently shaky camera work, whip pans, shock cuts and a soundtrack punctuated by overwhelming loudness to create a more visceral and in-your-face approach to the proceedings. Any feeling, empathy or even, disgust and revulsion (they come off as laughable) gets lost in his stylistic flourishes and lack of directoral focus. It seems that Tsukamoto-san swings (his camera a lot) and misses the main, pacifistic message of the original novel and Ichikawa’s movie – that war reduces all men to savagery. Tsukamoto’s version, like most of his oeuvre, offers heat, but little light.
Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2015.